She could have been my daughter standing in line at the homeless shelter. There she was, waiting like the rest of them for a warm bed and a warm meal before the cold set in for the evening. I finally had my prayer answered and I was inside of a homeless shelter volunteering my time. I received the ultimate gift of being blessed with a fearless desire to help out; this would prove to be the ultimate lesson later on. As I waited inside the shelter, I watched through the glass doors as homeless people lined up to come inside for the evening. I came to the shelter with the intention of only staying for one evening, helping wherever they needed me. By the time I had finished volunteering, I had given four days of my time. I didn’t realize when I started out that I would be blessed, I thought I’d be blessing others; turns out I was blessed beyond my wildest dreams. I watched all the people coming through the door, yet I kept watching this one particular individual, this one young woman, and I knew I would speak to her before the evening was over. As the people came into the shelter, I returned to the kitchen to get dinner ready.
I had been making garlic bread earlier in the evening. I knew the aroma would be enticing for all the guests as soon as they arrived. Loaf after loaf, I slathered on butter and then sprinkled each piece lightly with garlic powder. I wrapped each loaf in foil and placed them in the oven waiting for the smell of garlic bread to engulf the kitchen. As the homeless or guests as we prefer to call them were coming into the shelter, they each smelled the room and said, “Something smells wonderful”! Case in point, if it smells like home, they will be more comfortable. I just wanted the guests to feel like human beings with a sense of home. No one wants to have to go to a shelter, yet there were almost fifty here on this particular evening, so maybe, just maybe a familiar smell would help them transition easier.
This shelter was scheduled to close for the rest of winter, even though spring was only fifteen days away. This shelter remained open another five days due to the extreme weather predictions for this area. Extreme cold, and some ice had taken over the parking lot since it had rained and froze earlier in the day. The “guests” came through the door, and some had lightweight jackets on, while others were bundled up and prepared for another cold night. It was hard to believe that some came with backpacks and other bags to carry their belongings in, while others came only with the coat on their back. As I watched each guest pass by me, I wondered what their stories were and where they had come from. I wondered if there was family wishing they were home, or did their absence go unnoticed day after day.
Each guest was assigned a cot, and as they filed in the door they found the number for their cot taped on the floor and lay all their belongings underneath. They started to form a line at the food table, and as they gathered a plate of food and drink some were laughing trying to make the most of a difficult situation. No one is immune to becoming homeless, it only takes the blink of an eye and your boss saying, “Sorry no more work”, and that is the beginning of the cycle. For others it is the landlord telling you, “You have only a few days to vacate the premises”, and you will find yourself on the streets with no place to live. The cycle of being homeless can be hard to break, as it seems society looks at the homeless as a thorn in their cities side. If you turn a naked eye, they just might go away. Well, here at this shelter it was evident that they weren’t going away, and they all just wanted to find a home to call their own.
I brought out some deserts and laid them on the table. It was a mixed up concoction of chocolate pudding with whipped cream on top, all laid out on paper plates I lined them up in a row. People started to come over and take the plates away with a spoon. I turned and walked to a table where an older man was sitting, his name was Michael. Michael wasn’t shy about talking, and he quickly told me his story about how he had been homeless for one year. Once this shelter closed he had no idea where he would go. I wasn’t sure if he had a job, so when I asked him, he just simply said no and I didn’t push the subject. He looked like he could be someone’s father or grandfather, yet he said he did not have family in the area.
Michael knew the area well, and he knew where to go during the day to stay safe. He said that the bus station was a good place to go, a lot of people knew him there. He said that today was special because they celebrated his birthday. I looked at him and smiled saying, “Today is your birthday”? He laughed and said “Yes”. I asked him if he liked cake, to which he replied “no”. He did like pudding though, so I went over to the table to grab him a plate. When I returned I sang Happy Birthday to him, and he had tears in his eyes. He thanked me for treating him like a human being. I looked at him joking and said, “Well last time I checked, you were human”. He looked at me and said that people treated him different because he was homeless, and yet I made him feel human. I said, “I’m just enjoying the conversation!” Michael became the first blessing of my evening. After having been in the kitchen for over an hour, the conversation we had was so heartwarming, it left me feeling as if I had really made a difference in his life for a brief moment in time. You can’t escape the fact that he is indeed homeless, but for a few moments he was allowed to forget and indulge in the celebration of the next year of his life. I told him this would be his finest year! Truth be told, I truly believe it will be his finest year, that he will find a home and be able to close a door at night that belongs to him.
All the while I was talking to Michael, I was keeping my eye on the young women in the corner. She had been lying on her cot very quiet, listening to music on her phone. I had a copy of a story I had written so I approached her, unsure how she would react. Some people in shelters like to be left alone, often shy or unapproachable they stay to themselves. When I walked over to talk to this young woman, she had a grin from ear to ear. She sat up on her cot and when I asked her if she’d like to read a story I wrote she said “Yes Ma’am, I’d love to read your story”. This began a relationship between the two of us, and she would become a blessing in my life. This relationship would prove to both of us that there are no coincidences. It would prove to both of us that God does put people in our lives that will change our paths and direct us to where God wants our lives to go.